In early November 1745 the Manchester militia was raised, with the intention of it protecting the town from the Jacobite army led by Prince Charles Edward Stuart, which was by now in England and heading south. The exact route the army would take wasn’t known, but the militia had been in arms for about two weeks, when on 26th November news arrived that the Jacobites were at Preston, just two days march away. This seems to have created a panic in Manchester, with a number of people fleeing the town, including prisoners, who were released from jail to do so. All the bridges over the River Mersey were destroyed in an attempt to delay the army and on the 27th November the militia was disbanded and sent home. Such militia behaviour was echoed everywhere, and led the Jacobite Lord Elcho to comment contemptuously that the English militia was the most cowardly body of troops in the world.
The following afternoon, somewhat anti-climactically, two Highlanders – one a sergeant and one a drummer, and a woman entered the town, riding to the Market Cross to proclaim King James III and to beat for recruits, offering each man five guineas to join them. They were watched by hundreds of people and succeeded in raising about eighty recruits before the main body of the army arrived the following day, when several thousand men, including the prince, occupied the city. It was said of Prince Charles: ‘the Chevalier marched by my door in a Highland dress, on foot, at 3 o’clock, surrounded by a Highland guard; no music but a pair of bagpipes.’
They ordered that the bells be rung and all houses illuminated that evening (everyone had to place a lit candle in their window), and the prince lodged at John Dickenson’s house on Market Street.
John Byrom, a citizen of Manchester and somewhat reticent Jacobite, had a daughter Elizabeth (Beppy), who kept a diary of the period that the Jacobites were in Manchester. It’s lovely to read and really conveys her Jacobite fervour and youthful optimism. She certainly wasn’t reticent in her support of the rising, spent two days making St Andrew’s crosses for the soldiers, and was ecstatic when allowed to meet the prince and kiss his hand. I love her entry for 30th November about the prince, which really shows the enthusiasm felt by many young Jacobites at this time. Here she is:
‘we went to Mr Fletcher’s and saw him [Prince Charles] get a-horseback, and a noble sight it is, I would not have missed it for a great deal of money; his horse had stood an hour in the court without stirring, and as soon as he gat on he began a-dancing and capering as if he was proud of the burden, and when he rid out of the court he was received with as much joy and shouting almost as if he had been king without any dispute, indeed I think scarce anybody that saw him could dispute it.’
This approval, shared by most of the remaining inhabitants of the town, must have been balm to both the prince and his army. So far they had ridden through England to sullen quiet at best, and no sign of the English Jacobites actually coming out to swell their numbers. Manchester must have seemed like heaven to them.
On 1st December the army set out to leave the town and continue their progress southward. Interestingly, although all the bridges had been pulled down in an attempt to delay the Jacobites, Prince Charles ordered that they be repaired, and one of them was repaired by his own troops, not because he wanted to use it himself, but because he believed it would be of use to the people. This says a lot about the kind of man the prince was at this time.
He and his men crossed the river at Cheadle Ford, where a number of poplar trees had been felled and laid across to make a rudimentary dam.
A week later, after the disastrous council at Derby, the army returned, once again coming to Manchester. Those who had run away as they approached from the north, were now back home, and that, combined with the fact that the Jacobites now appeared to be running away, meant that the welcome given them as they approached Manchester was now very different.
About two o’clock on the 9th December a party of Highlanders entered the town to be greeted by a mob who threw stones at them. The Jacobites told them that if they didn’t stop they’d be fired on, so they did, but the general mood was no longer one of jubilation, with the result that once the prince and his men had been lodged, a general curfew was ordered, and the town was quiet.
The following day they ordered Manchester to pay a contribution of £5,000 because of the insolence of the people. They finally succeeded in raising half of that, much of it coming from loyal supporters. After this they left Manchester to continue on their way north.
Although in her diary Beppy says nothing of the mood of the Highlanders, the tone of her writing displays this, going from her previous exuberant description and joyous adjectives to an emotionless narration of events. This conveys to me more than anything the despair of the Jacobites at this point, as they headed north to the ultimate destruction of their hopes, dreams, and finally their way of life.
Most of the Manchester Regiment (which consisted not just of the men recruited in Manchester, but of other English Jacobites) remained at Carlisle Castle rather than continuing into Scotland with the rest of the army, and when the castle was taken by the Duke of Cumberland the officers of the Manchester Regiment were treated with disproportionate severity. More men from this regiment were convicted and executed than from any other Jacobite regiment in the army, and of all those executed, a quarter of them were from the Manchester Regiment, although it probably never numbered more than 300 men in total. By the time it was at Carlisle it consisted of 113 men.
It seemed that the British authorities wanted to send out a strong warning to English Jacobites not to join in any further attempts by the Stuarts to regain their crown. In any case, eleven officers were executed on Kennington Common, and I have described those executions in some detail in Pursuit of Princes. All the names that John Betts gives are names of the actual men who died, and in fact John Betts was a real ensign in the Manchester Regiment and really did escape from prison, thereby avoiding the grisly fate of his comrades. (The rest of his history I have invented, as nothing more seems to be known about him).
Of the rest, thirty-eight were transported, some certainly died in prison, and nineteen were either acquitted, pardoned or discharged. Twenty-one agreed to enlist in the British Army, and eight turned King’s Evidence and betrayed their former comrades in return for a pardon – one of these being the only officer to do so, the Maddox that John Betts mentions in Pursuit of Princes.
Incidentally, John Holker, who is also briefly mentioned in the Jacobite Chronicles, was another real-life figure. He was also an officer in the Manchester Regiment, and he also escaped prison and therefore execution. Unlike John Betts, his story is well documented, and he will be the subject of a future blog!
As for Manchester itself, it continued to go from strength to strength, although was again to come to the attention of the rest of the country in 1819, when it became the location of the infamous ‘Peterloo Massacre’, when eighteen peaceful demonstrators at a rally calling for parliamentary reform were brutally murdered and 400-700 injured by a group of soldiers. Still on a political note, Manchester was the home of Emmeline Pankhurst and her family, who led the Suffragette campaign to gain votes for women.
Manchester was also one of the pivotal towns in the birthplace of the industrial revolution, and is still known as a manufacturing city rather than a tourist attraction. It’s true that in Victorian times and later the pollution from the vast number of factories was appalling, and even I remember as a child the thick fogs and buildings whose walls were blackened by soot.
However, to dismiss it so lightly is to miss out on a number of really interesting places, including the Lowry Centre, Imperial War Museum North, the stunning neo-gothic John Rylands library, and Manchester Cathedral, which has the best late mediaeval woodwork in the north, to name only a few. If you are ever in the north of England, I’d recommend a visit to the town I called home for so many years. You won’t be disappointed, and will be assured of a friendly northern welcome!